India Refurbishing its AN-32 Transport Fleet
June 19/19: Downsizing after Crash Jane’s reports that the Indian Air Force wants to limit the use of its aging fleet of Antonov An-32 ‘Cline’ transport aircraft. Just recently an AN-32 aircraft of the Indian Air Force with 13 people on board crashed 33 minutes after taking off from Jorhat in Assam for Arunachal’s Menchuka, killing all 13 service personnel. Senior Indian Air Force officers said, the Force plans to curtail operations of the service’s 105 Soviet-era An-32s in the country’s Himalayan regions and over the Bay of Bengal due to safety concerns. Four fatal accidents involving the twin-engine turboprop transporter, resulting in the deaths of 54 service personnel and civilians, have taken place since the early years of the AN-32’s services for the Indian Air Force.
The Antonov AN-32 “Cline” builds on the general design of the widely-used AN-26 light transport plane, but high placement of the engine nacelles above the wing allow bigger propellers, driven by 5,100 hp AI-20 turboprops that almost double the output of the AN-26’s engines. As a result, the AN-32’s 14,750 pound/ 6900 kg load capacity is almost 50% better than its AN-26 cousin’s, and it can take off with much better load fractions in hot and/or high-altitude conditions, whose thin air could be a problem for other aircraft. AN-32s serve with a number of countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, and the type was purchased in 2008 by Afghanistan.
India was the plane’s launch customer in the 1980s, and its fleet of up to 105 aircraft are used by the IAF’s Parachute Training School, by its military for humanitarian personnel and supply airdrops, and as an important link in the transport chain to the disputed Siachen glacier area in northern Jammu and Kashmir. That length of service has taken a toll, hence India’s decision to modernize over 100 planes to An-32RE status…
The New AN-32REs
The process began with a Parliamentary Committee suggestion in 2000-01. The intent to upgrade the AN-32 fleet was restated in 2006, and India went on to perform pre-upgrade surveys of its fleet. Anotnov and Israel’s Elbit Systems were said to be the likely contractors, with the latter playing a role as an equipment supplier. The Ukraine’s Motor Sich will work on upgrades to the engines. The formal announcement cited the Ukraine’s state agency Spetstechnoexport as the contract winner, but the Antonov Plant and Civil Aviation Plant 410 are actually executing the contract.
The $400 million main project envisages a Total Technical Life Extensions (TTLE) for 40 aircraft at Antonov-certified plants in Ukraine, at the rate of 10 aircraft per year. It also includes the supply of material and transfer of technology for the upgrade of remaining 64 aircraft at the IAF’s No. 1 Base Repair Depot (BRD) in Kanpur (tl. 104). A parallel 3-year, $110 million contract with Motor Sich OJSC in Zaporizhia with upgrade the fleet’s AI-20 engines. The 40 AN-32 aircraft upgrades in Kiev are expected to be completed by March 2014, and the upgrades at 1 BRD are scheduled to finish by March 2017.
With over 800,000 flight hours on India’s 104-plane fleet, the airframes needed an extensive structural refurbishment to extend their service lives for another 15-20 years. So, what else goes into a TTLE’d An-32RE?
A combination of press reports and Ukrainian announcements says that the engines are being upgraded, while the structural changes lower the plane’s overall mass, leading to better fuel consumption. In the cockpit, the 1980s avionics are being replaced with a new “glass cockpit” of display screens, a satellite navigation system, a better flight management system, aircraft collision warning equipment, ground collision early warning equipment, modernized aircraft rangefinders and height finders, a new radar set with 2 multifunctional indicators, new oxygen equipment, and noise and vibration reduction measures, and modernized crew seats.
Taken together, the upgraded An-32 will be able to make full use of runways with international ICAO category Instrument Landing Systems Category II runways, allowing takeoffs and landings in visibility as low as 300 meters. India’s MAFI program will give the new planes up to 67 bases in India that can make full use of these capabilities.
The AN-32 upgrade program not only survived India’s contract to purchase 6-12 C-130J Hercules aircraft configured for special forces operations, it appears to be complementary. On Oct 14/08, Zee News quoted Agra Air Station’s Air Officer Commanding Air Commodore Shouvik Roy:
“With special operations being the focus of the Air Force in the days to come, the upgraded aircraft will be used increasingly for operations involving tactical transport. The improved on-board avionics will facilitate night operations and even search and rescue.”
Contracts and Key Events
2012 – 2019
Oct 9/14: India is still trying to get multiple local bids to upgrade the remaining 60+ An-32s in its fleet. This phase was always planned as a local effort, but the IAF needs to relax some of the RFP’s conditions and ensure that industry is ready:
“In a first, IAF last year had invited bids from private parties for upgradation of AN-32 transport and MiG-29 fighter aircraft…. “We needed to change certain aspects related to the conditions and invited fresh bids again, which are expected to be received by end of this month,” said Air Marshal P Kanakraj, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of IAF’s maintenance command based at Nagpur…. As much as 95% of the spares required for the aircraft have now been indigenized…. as far as the maintenance command is concerned, the focus was on indigenization of spares and consumables for the aircraft and other systems…. A plan of upgrading the BRDs [Base Repair Depots] was also being considered by the ministry of defence, he added.”
The plan was to use the BRDs as infrastructure, plus resources from maintenance command and private companies to refurbish the planes. Sources: Times of India, “Bids for AN-32 upgrade likely by month end”.
July 17/14: CAG Report. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India points out some problems in the An-32RE program:
“IAF had paid USD 719,500 (Rs 3.16 crore) per engine against the contract of June 2007 [for 17 engines], whereas, it had to pay USD 10,90,000 (Rs 5.43 crore) per engine against the contract of December 2009 [for 100 engines]. Thus, IAF had to incur a total of Rs 227 crore extra on procurement of 100 aero-engines…. Despite being aware of long-term requirement of aero-engines, IAF failed to project the entire requirement which resulted in the extra avoidable expenditure.
“….Due to delay in initiation and conclusion of the contract, facilities for upgradation of an aircraft could not be set up in time despite an investment of Rs 272 crore on Transfer of Technology resulting in grounding of more than 50 percent of the transport aircraft fleet…”
Sources: Jagran Post, “CAG pulls up IAF for grounding AN-32 transport planes”.
March 29/14: Delivery. A 7th batch of 5 upgraded AN-32REs flies out of Kiev toward Kanpur, India. Ukroboronprom mentions that the fly-outs occurred immediately, and that:
“Taking into consideration the [Russian annexation of] Crimea [and threats to Ukraine], the European partners, as an exceptional case, have opened the sky for the military transportation aircrafts, so that the vehicles will be able to arrive at destination place in time.”
Normally, these planes would ferry themselves to India via Russia. The final set of 5 from Ukraine are scheduled for delivery and departure in summer 2014. After that, the contract will involve upgrade kits that are installed in India. Sources: Ukroboronprom, “The seventh batch of An-32 Aircrafts upgraded was supplied to the Air Forces of India”.
March 29/14: MAFI. India’s Business Standard discusses India’s INR 25 billion “Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure” (MAFI) project, which is being led by Tata Power’s strategic electronics division. It uses Doppler Very High Frequency Omni-directional Radio Range (DVOR), and Category II Instrument Landing Systems (ILS), allowing direction from 300 km and operations in visibility as low as 300 meters.
ICAO ILS Category II compatibility is an important goal for the AN-32RE, but the challenge is that India can only upgrade 5-6 bases at any given time. The eventual goal is 30 IAF and navy bases set up by 2016, including 8 along the Chinese border. By the end of 2019, the goal is to expand MAFI to 67 air bases, including 2 owned by the ministry of home affairs. Sources: India’s Business Standard, “First upgraded IAF base commissioned”.
Feb 10/14: The Ukrainian state export agency Ukroboronprom announces a “new contract for repair and renovation of aircraft equipment between Indian Air Forces and SFTE Spectechnoexport”, involving India’s An-32s.
The on-site translation is poor, but it appears to be either a tranche of the original upgrade deal, or a longer-term maintenance and spares arrangement. No figures are provided. Sources: Ukroboronprom, “New contract for renovation of aircraft equipment was signed in interests of the Ministry of Defense of India”.
Jan 31/14: 35/105. Antonov advertises its coming presence at India’s DefExpo 2014, and offers an update regarding its An-32RE conversions:
“Today enterprises of Ukraine perform deep modernization of the fleet of 105 AN-32 light military-transports of Indian Air Forces. Till present, works on 35 airplanes were completed.”
Things appear to be moving slowly, as contracted, at a rate of just 10 per year. Meanwhile, India needs to have begun preparation for its own upgrade work, which will begin once AN-32RE #40 is delivered. Sources: Antonov, “ANTONOV will participate in DEF EXPO?2014 in Delhi”.
Feb 5/13: 25/105. Antonov offers a progress report. So far, the firm has upgraded and re-delivered 25 AN-32REs, out of the total order for 105. They’re also looking to provide 1-stop service for the fleet:
“Developing cooperation with India on the AN?32 programme, ANTONOV Company proposes to realize the principle of integrated operational support of the aircraft. It implies all the services, including: scientific and research investigations, scheduled maintenance and repair, engineering services, training of personnel, modification of the aircraft, providing with technical documentation, warranty maintenance, spare parts and vendor items deliveries to be rendered through the “single window” – ANTONOV Company. This system will provide the most efficient interaction between the aircraft operator and enterprises participating in the programme.”
It’s a lucrative opportunity, but India’s poor experiences with the Ukrainian firm’s Russian counterparts is likely to be an obstacle.
2009 – 2011
From contract negotiations to 1st returns to service.
June 8/11: The IAF inducts the first 4 refurbished An-32RE transports back into service at the Palam AFB. India had sent 5 AN-32s to the Ukraine, and the remaining one will be inducted after it is finished re-equipping.
An-32s have limited range, and Spets Techno Export ferried the An-32REs from Kiev to Ankara, Turkey; Cairo, Egypt; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Doha, Bahrain; and the United Arab Emirates, before bringing them to New Delhi. India Strategic’s article also discusses the deal’s value, players, and timelines.
1st returns to service
March 10/10: A Parliamentary reply clears up one aspect of the deal – when it was signed:
“The Government has signed a contract for ugpradation of AN-32 aircraft with M/s Spets Techno Export, Ukraine on June 15, 2009. This information was given by Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in written reply to Shri Gireesh Kumar Sanghi in Rajya Sabha today.”
Feb 3/10: Engines. Engine-maker OJSC Motor Sich in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine announces a $110 million contract to modernize the IAF AN-32 fleet’s AI-20 engines.
The 3-year deal is running from December 2009 – 2013, and 2010 will reportedly see Motor Sich modernize around 100 engines. Unless this is a multi-stage process, that would be close to half of the stock. Sources: Ukrinform, “Motor Sich modernizing engines for India Air Force”.
July 22/09: India MoD release:
“A contract for Total Technical Life Extension, Overhaul and Re-equipment of AN-32 fleet has been concluded with Spets Techno Export, Ukraine to overhaul and upgrade these planes, as part of the IAF fleet management approach. The project includes calendar life extension up to 40 years, overhaul and re-equipment of AN-32 aircraft. There were no conditionalities at the time of acquisition of AN-32 with the Russian Government. This information was given by Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in a written reply to Shri Vijay Jawaharlal Darda and Smt Shobhana Bhartia in Rajya Sabha today.”
June 13/09: Reports say that India’s Ministry of Defence signed a $400 million deal with Ukrainian firms to refurbish “close to 100” AN-32s under a life extension contract. Reports are slightly conflicting, due to lack of transparency on both sides. The contract is eventually established as covering 105 planes, and is signed 2 days later, on June 15/09.
Word of the deal leaked after a June 9/09 AN-32 crash, shortly after it took off from the Mechuka landing base near the Chinese border. The state of the fleet is well known, and early leaks re: upgrades are a good way to divert heated inquiries into the fleet’s safety. Indian Express.
March 3/09: Jane’s adds that the upgrade will involve about 70 aircraft, adding that around 50 of the 100 remaining AN-32s will require structural refurbishment, as well as systems modernization. It will apparently be performed in cooperation with Elbit Systems, whose avionics are popular with the Indian military.
Feb 16/09: According to the Ukraine’s official news agency UKRINFORM, Ukraine’s Aviant Aircraft Building Plant in Kiev appears to have won the upgrade contract for India’s AN-32s. Ukraine’s national news agency reports that:
“At the meeting with India’s Defense Minister it was noted that in the context of a recent victory of the Ukrainian party in a tender on modernization of the fleet of 105 An-23 planes of the Indian Air Force, the relevant bilateral military-technical cooperation has prospects of achieving a qualitatively new level. The work on the contract is being completed now.”
Contract amounts were not mentioned. In India, however, it is wise not to count on any contract until it is actually signed.